Today my Special Edition DVD of Citizen Kane arrived, prompting my inner Orson Welles fangirl to squee. Incidentally, Kane isn't even my favourite Welles movie; depending on my mood, I favour Othello, Chimes at Midnight or Touch of Evil. But there's something breathtaking in seeing those familiar images of Citizen Kane in the immaculate, pristine DVD quality, and to hear those familiar voices so clearly. Welles' voice in particular. As Simon Callow has said, it was "quite simply a gift from God, a natural instrument equivalent, in speech, to the singing voice of a Gigli or a Chaliapin". (He goes on to say that Welles' voice "flattered and stimulated", with "the smile being positively audible, as is the arched eyebrow". Callow's biography of O.W. is somewhat controversial among Wellesians, but for my money, it's the most compelling simply because Callow manages to bring Welles' theatre productions alive in the way only another actor can, not to mention Orson himself - as he sees him, certainly, but it's an immensely fascinating character he describes.)
So far, I've watched the audio commentary by Ken Barnes. Who manages to maintain a delicate balance in the "who wrote what in Citizen Kane" debate, otherwise repeats familiar anecdotes and gives some details on how particular scenes were shot and composed that were new to me. As audio commentaries by film historians go, it was a good but not great one. But then again, maybe that's an advantage, because it allows the viewer to devote just a tad more attention to the picture than to the commentary, and no matter how often I've watched Kane, there is still something left to discover. This time, for example, I realized that during the conversation between Leland and Bernstein at the party early on, Kane remains clearly mirrored in the window behind them the entire time. There is something simultaneously endearing and exasperating in the "Look! Look what I can do! Look how brilliant I am!" dazzle of Citizen Kane. (Something which I imagine a great many people felt in Welles' presence, too.) But as the years go by, I'm more struck by the mixture of affection and cruelty the movie displays for its characters, which is something Welles would go on to do in future endeavours. Susan, Kane's second wife, might be silly and not too bright, but as the cruelty of what he does to her, forcing her on the stage to endure humiliation after humiliation in the guise of celebration, starts to sink in, it's hard not to feel for her, and when she finally leaves him, one cheers. "Oh yes, I can." At the same time, Susan does not end up a liberated woman, or even one at peace; when we meet her, she's unhappy, forced to cash in on the Kane name and the career she didn't want to support herself, with a tendency to drink too much (which is a parallel to Kane's old friend Leland). And yet Susan is not dismissed as hopeless. "Look," she says in her final scene, the sun shining on her face, "look, what d'ya know, it's morning!"
Leland, on the other hand, who of all the characters has the most insight without ever seeing it all, is stuck in the perpetual twilight of his old age when we meet and leave him. As opposed to Bernstein, who loves Kane uncritically but never presumes to understand him, and Susan, who doesn't love him but starts out liking Kane, comes to hate him through their marriage and ultimately to pity him, Leland loves him and never manages to forgive him. Male friendships and mutual betrayal is a favourite Welles theme; those friendships almost always can be called love, cut much deeper than the male/female relationships in his pictures (though Welles, as opposed to many other directors concentrating on male friendships, is capable of presenting interesting women in the same opus), and the betrayal is inevitable sooner or later. The relationship between Charles Foster Kane and Jed Leland is the first variation of this theme, and of course the rapport between Welles and Joseph Cotton, friends in real life, helps to make it so memorable - as it does in the film Welles did not direct but ironically became most famous for due to what is not much more than a cameo, The Third Man - another tale of male friendship and mutual betrayal, among other things).
"You want to persuade people you love them so much that they ought to love you back. But you want love on your own terms."
"A toast, then, Jedediah, to love on my own terms. Which are the only terms anybody ever knows. His own."